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March 11, 2007

The Bates Primate Motel

Chimps in Senegal were seen thrusting modified branches into hollow tree limbs in what was probably an attempt to kill their nocturnal primate cousin, the bush baby, for later eating. This is the latest in a long line of discoveries about chimp behaviors that were previously thought to be unique to humans. And while this particular version of tool making and usage isn't very different from the termite fishing (i.e. sticking stripped branches into termite mounds) that has been known about for decades, the fact that the action is violent, the prey is vertebrate, and the tool is spear-like has inspired tons of media attention.

And when the media discusses non-human primates, ridiculous analogies are the norm. In a previous piece, Gelf noted that male chimps who preferred to mate with older females were compared to the American Pie partygoers who had a thing for Stifler's mom. In the Washington Post piece about the newest discovery—parodied amusingly by the Language Log—the lead researcher says that the chimps' actions reminded her of the shower scene in the movie Psycho.

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